Dealer spotlight: introducing Imperial Car Supermarkets and their ambitious growth plans

Posted by Meg Bernazzani on October 10, 2018

At CarGurus, we believe our dealers have valuable stories and insights worth sharing. Today we’re launching a new series on our blog called dealer spotlights, which will highlight CarGurus customers and their success. Our aim with these profiles is to offer a platform for our dealers to talk about the history of their businesses, as well as to reflect on the used car market as they see it.

The profiles will be written in a way that appeals to dealer and consumer audiences alike, providing added value for dealers who work with CarGurus. From the history of a dealership and its current success, to future aspirations, or even just a unique car it is selling, we’re looking to cover a range of topics from a variety of dealerships. We have no fixed schedule for dealer spotlights – we’ll simply research, write, and publish them when relevant. And while we cannot guarantee if or when a dealership will qualify for a spotlight, any dealer with an interesting story to tell should let us know.

Read on for our first dealer spotlight, which features Imperial Car Supermarkets, a large independent dealership in Southampton.

Dealer Spotlight: Imperial Car Supermarkets

A local dealer with a national presence: that’s how Imperial Car Supermarkets aims to be regarded. The business began trading 13 years ago from a small forecourt in Southampton, Hampshire. Today, Imperial Car Supermarkets is a UK-wide operation with 12 retail sites, 340 employees, and a projected annual turnover of £200 million for 2018.


It is also currently in a phase of rapid growth, having taken on six new retail sites in the past year, and aiming to add another eight to its tally by 2020. Given such ambitious expansion, it’s not surprising that these new sites differ in scale from the firm’s flagship premises and headquarters on Southampton’s Millbrook Trading Estate, being smaller and thus much more efficient to establish. To achieve this, Imperial has developed a model based on slotting into ex-main dealer sites, taking advantage of the existing infrastructure to get a new branch up and running in a matter of weeks rather than months.

This in turn has allowed the company to accelerate sales, to the point where it now retails around 1,300 cars per month. According to Neil Smith, Operations Director at Imperial, it’s not only scale that has resulted in this success, but also the company’s belief that it needed to challenge the market in the way it presented used vehicles for sale: “We saw five or six years ago the perception of the used car market wasn’t in the right place, and we felt the only way to address that was to put everything we could online, giving the customer no reason not to come in and look at a vehicle,” he explains.

It is for that reason you’ll find not only dozens of pictures accompanying every car Imperial offers for sale, but also full documentation including scans of the V5C vehicle registration certificate and an RAC approved inspection report carried out by their own qualified technicians.


On the technical front, much of this has been made possible by the fact Imperial’s website sits on a bespoke platform, as indeed does its DMS, all of which Smith says gives the company total control: “We manage everything from the point of looking at cars at auction and what we want to buy, right through to delivering the car. We’ve really forged ahead with our own development and made it very flexible and dynamic.”

That management includes putting around 320 cars per week through its own preparation centre in Eastleigh, Hampshire, which operates 24 hours per day and has facilities including in-house bodyshop and alloy wheel refurbishment. And given the company’s recent expansion, it’s no surprise to hear that it’s on the lookout for a second prep site in the north of the country to increase capacity and ease logistics.

As for the market itself, Imperial currently sees search volumes split at around 58 per cent diesel and 42 per cent petrol and alternative fuel, with an increasing interest in hybrids such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV as a result of the dieselgate scandal and the emerging acceptance of how capable the new technology can be. It is also aware that manufacturers and major dealer groups are focusing more heavily on used car sales due to toughening conditions in the new car market, but is confident that its own background and experience puts it ahead of the curve.

As for the customers themselves, Smith confirms that they are much more educated about their purchase than in the past: “They’ve done their research and typically have spent about three months on various review, manufacturer, and classified platforms, and they have homed in on the particular car they are looking for,” he says. “They are coming in forearmed and forewarned, they know the car is competitively priced, and they have built up an expectation of our business through how we present the vehicle. All we need to do is make sure that flows through the site visit.”

Which of course all comes back to good old-fashioned customer service, and Imperial Car Supermarket’s aim of providing that local dealer experience on a national level.

CarGurus is proud to be part of Imperial Car Supermarket’s growth story. To learn more about how they partner with us to expand their business, check out this video. Or, if you already work with us and would like to have your dealership featured as a spotlight, please get in touch with your account manager today!

Topics: case study, dealer profile, dealer spotlight